UFC 234 was hit with a bombshell less than 24 hours before it was scheduled to take place when middleweight champion and headliner Robert Whittaker was forced to withdraw due to an intestinal hernia and a twisted bowel. It was serious enough even Dana White was solemn when addressing the situation. Quite a change from the man we’ve come to expect to call fighters colorful adjectives meant to demean their toughness. Thus, the title defense with Kelvin Gastelum was canceled and UFC 234 instantly became doomed.
Given the lack of depth on the card, many were calling it the worst card ever based on the face value. My vote still goes to UFC 24, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, an already shallow card lost the miniscule amount of depth it once had, leaving many fans reluctant to part with their money to see the show. Sure, Anderson Silva did step up and put on the best performance we’ve seen out of him in years in his loss to Israel Adesanya… but does that make up for the rest of a card lacking in names fans care about? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
Anderson Silva: For some reason, fans are willing to overlook Silva’s two PED suspensions and shower him with nonstop love. That may have been reason alone to put Silva in the winner’s column. However, when he was able to show he still has something left in the tank, potentially taking a round away from the much young Adesanya, the living legend began receiving praise not heaped upon him since he last wore a big gold belt. While Silva may not have shown he should be competing for titles, he did show he can still be a solid competitor if placed in the right situation. Given the recent showings of other legends such as Chuck Liddell, BJ Penn, and Fedor Emelianenko, I have no doubt Silva will take that.
Lando Vannata: There may have been nothing impressive about Vannata’s opponent – Marcos Mariano was 6-4 on the Brazilian regional scene against middling competition – but Vannata did what was needed to get a victory while taking minimal damage. We can’t realistically demand a highlight reel finish from him every time he fights, but a dominant victory wasn’t out of the question and he delivered. Some may say he didn’t deliver the usual exciting contest – and he didn’t – but the victory was far more important this time around.
Ricky Simon: I wasn’t surprised when Simon beat Rani Yahya. I was surprised at how dominant he was, literally pushing Yahya to the ground on multiple occasions. Granted, Yahya was trying to bait him to the ground, but Simon’s physical dominance over Yahya was clear for anyone to see. There is cause for concern – he did suffer a flash knockdown from Yahya after all – but Simon’s ability to carry out an ideal strategy helped assuage some of the other concerns about him.
Montana De La Rosa: De La Rosa looked like a world beater. Never mind Nadia Kassem isn’t exactly a quality win, De La Rosa did what she was supposed to do against an opponent who doesn’t provide much of a challenge. I feel somewhat validated by De La Rosa’s performance as I felt Kassem was step back. Here’s hoping she can look good once she gets a step up.
Jim Crute: Whether you believe his fight with Sam Alvey was stopped early, there was no doubt Crute looked like a million bucks. He hurt Alvey quickly and could have had a non-controversial stoppage if he hadn’t let up after hurting Alvey the first time. Regardless, Crute is looking like an up-and-coming prospect in a division desperate for young blood.
Devonte Smith: There haven’t been many prospects from the Contender Series that have blasted down the doors upon their UFC entry. With two first round finishes, it’s safe to say Smith has done that. Dong Hyun Ma landed zero notable offense as he was too leery of Smith’s power. He had good reason to be as Smith’s first real attempt to finish the fight proved to be successful. I’m the one who is leery now as I hope the UFC doesn’t want to rush his development given his success….
Shane Young: Either I’m too high on Young or too low on Austin Arnett, but I expected Young to either finish the American or put on a more dominant performance. Regardless, Young coasted to a clear win to improve his UFC record to 2-1. Not bad for a guy who many expected to wash out shortly after coming aboard.
Kyung Ho Kang: There are some who would say Kang is a boring fighter. All one has to do to combat that criticism now is show them Kang’s scrap with Teruto Ishihara. The bantamweights threw down, swinging wildly before Ishihara tired himself out. Kang took advantage by slipping in a RNC to put him to sleep. It may not have been a quality win, but it does provide a major boost to Kang’s highlight reel.
Jalin Turner: What a hell of a turnaround. After getting blasted by Vicente Luque in his UFC debut, Turner played the role of destroyer against Callan Potter, putting in less than a minute of cage time. The UFC needs to continue to handle Turner with kid gloves as he is still brutally raw, but he’s capable of putting on performances like this against higher competition. He just needs more time.
Jonathan Martinez: While his opponent was of low quality, Martinez put forth a much more complete performance against Wuliji Buren. His boxing looked better. He won all the meaningful scrambles. He escaped some deep submissions. Martinez might be able to stick around for a while. Then again, we need to see how he’ll do against someone who actually belongs on the roster.
Robert Whittaker: Not knowing how in the world Whittaker contracted his hernia or twisted bowel, I can’t say it was through no fault of his own. However, the medical reports have all indicated it was a freakish situation at the very least. Regardless of whether Whittaker brought the injury on himself, it’s an unfortunate situation and permanently sticks Whittaker with the injury-prone label. Keep in mind he was forced to pull out of UFC 221 last year as well. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery and a return to form.
Kelvin Gastelum: Walking around with a gold belt that you haven’t earned paints you as a heel. Chael Sonnen was aware of that when he did it several years ago, but he was aware fans were in on the joke. Gastelum doesn’t seem to get it… either that or he doesn’t know how to pull it off. Keep in mind, Sonnen was his coach on TUF and Sonnen seems to keep in touch with several of his proteges from his stints on the show. Regardless, Gastelum came out looking very bad by claiming himself to be champion when Whittaker was unable to compete due to emergency surgery. Even if you want to overlook the way Gastelum handled the situation, missing out on a title shot makes it a bad day.
Rani Yahya: I wouldn’t call myself a mark, but I’m a Yahya fan. How can you not like an underdog? The train ran off the tracks as Yahya couldn’t compete with Simon’s physicality. Even worse, Simon refused to go to the ground, often standing up immediately following some of his takedowns. In the process, Yahya’s three-fight winning streak ended, likely killing any chances of him ending up on a main card ever again. I hate to say it, but this loss proves Yahya is nothing more than a gatekeeper.
Nadia Kassem: Kassem has been taking a lot of flak from fight analysts. This loss to De La Rosa validated pretty much all of that criticism. She scored zero significant offense with her resistance to tapping being the only positive to take away from her performance. Yikes. She has potential, but she would have been better developing on the regional scene.
Sam Alvey: I have a hankering that we may end up seeing Alvey ask for a match with Marc Goddard. In all seriousness, Alvey was blatantly pissed Goddard stopped the fight when Alvey wasn’t defending himself. It doesn’t matter if you are still alert, you need to be doing something other than holding a hand up to stop punches. With two losses in a row, Alvey may need to begin looking over his shoulder for a pink slip.
Dong Hyun Ma: And just like that, Ma’s three-fight winning streak comes to a halt. If his last few fights are any indication, so is his reputation as an action fighter. I’m not worried about Ma getting another fight in the UFC. I’m sure the UFC won’t give him anymore softballs, so I do believe he’s going to have a hard time getting anymore victories.
Austin Arnett: Is it just me, or did Arnett spend more time trying to thwart Young’s attack than he did attacking? Granted, he did land 77 significant strikes, but he also threw almost 100 less strikes than Young. Arnett’s biggest problem has been a lack of volume and that played out here. Officially 1-3 in the UFC with another loss on the Contender Series, Arnett may not be around any longer.
Teruto Ishihara: Y’all remember when Ishihara was considered to be an exciting up-and-comer? At 1-5 over his last six, nobody things that about Ishihara now. He doesn’t have the wrestling or gas tank to be effective beyond the first round. Even having said that, he has been finished in the first in his last two contests. Though it’s time to pull the plug, there’s no guarantee the UFC will do that.
Callan Potter: A long time vet of the Australian scene, Potter was getting his opportunity on the big stage on short notice. Perhaps he’d be happier had he not received that chance as he was thoroughly embarrassed by Turner. Potter was thought to be a durable dude heading into this bout. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore, meaning his chances of long-term success seem slim.
Wuliji Buren: The UFC has done everything they can to provide Buren with a winnable contest. I know this isn’t baseball, but three strikes and your out. He just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to make it at the highest level.
UFC/Fans: There is no good excuse the UFC can provide for such a shoddy card fans were expected to shell out their hard-earned money for. While the last minute injury is a valid point, it’s not like this is the first time the organization has had a last minute change of the main event. You’d think they’d learn from their past mistakes and have some sort of contingency plan in place. Nope. Could it be the UFC’s growth is stunted by fans getting sick of their inability to plan for the realities of this sport? I doubt it’s the biggest reason, but I’m sure it plays a part.
Israel Adesanya: Even if Silva exceeded expectations, Adesanya should have dominated him if he couldn’t finish him. He didn’t do that. I’m not about to jump off the Adesanya bandwagon by any means. He did take a clear victory after all. It simply calls to question his ability to challenge for a title. Granted, Adesanya only just barely completed his first calendar year in the UFC. He has progressed at a rapid pace regardless of whether he was able to thrash Silva. But do we really want to see him fight for the title in his next contest? I think I’d rather see him take one more meaningful fight.
Marcos Mariano: Yes, Mariano got dominated by Vannata. It wasn’t even close. However, nobody expected it to be competitive and Mariano was the co-main event in his UFC debut. Whether it ends up benefitting him in any way is debatable, but no one benefitted more from Whittaker’s unfortunate situation than he did based on exposure. Think of all the other quality fighters who have come through the UFC ranks to never co-main a PPV. Mariano can claim he has done that.
Kai Kara-France: His placement here isn’t necessarily his fault, but many were very excited about his future after his UFC debut against Elias Garcia. He put on a solid performance against Raulian Paiva that could have gone either way – it wasn’t a robbery folks – but he doesn’t look like he’s going to be the savior of the flyweight division. Admittedly, I’m being harsh on Kara-France, but that’s what happens when expectations are high.
Raulian Paiva: While Kara-France is being judged more harshly than most by me, I’ll admit I’m showing leniency towards Paiva. Why? The guy lost his girlfriend in a motorcycle accident this past October. Getting back to the cage and putting on a solid showing is a victory in itself. However, he didn’t get the win and as harsh as I was towards Kara-France, Paiva ends up here.